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Johnson Controls Worker Wages for Washington State Contracts Class Action

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Johnson Controls Fire Protection, LP describes itself as the “world leader in security, fire protection, HVAC, building controls and energy storage.” That may be so, but are they the world leader in paying wages? The complaint for this class action claims that the company paid employees less than the prevailing wage for certain work in Washington state, in violation of state laws.

The class for this action is all individuals working as inspectors of sprinklers or fire alarms, fire service technicians, or in similar classification for Johnson Controls in Washington state, from April 8, 2016 on.

In February 2016, SimplexGrinnell, LP signed a master contract with the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services (DES) for the inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire detection and suppression systems and backflow preventers in state facilities. Under the contract, “the prevailing wage rates which are in effect on the Bid opening date or on the effective date of any extension of the Contract are the wage rates that must be paid for the duration of the Contract.”

In September of the same year, Tyco SimplexGrinnell merged with Johnson Controls.

In January 2018, SimplexGrinnell assigned its rights, obligations, and liabilities under the master contract to Johnson Controls. An extension to the master contract became effective the following month. Under the master contract, Johnson Controls took over providing the fire detection and suppression and backflow prevention services. 

Plaintiff Brian Martin works for Johnson Controls as a sprinkler inspector in Washington, doing maintenance, inspection, and testing on fire alarms, sprinklers, and other systems in state and municipal facilities in Washington state. 

This is considered “public work,” the complaint says, and is covered by the Washington Prevailing Wage Act. However, the complaint claims that Johnson Controls paid Martin and others like him less than the prevailing wage for the work. Martin asked the company to pay him the prevailing wage, but the company did not. 

Also, the complaint says that Martin and others regularly worked more than forty hours per week for the company, but because of the incorrect wages, they were not compensated for the overtime at the correct rate. 

The complaint claims that when the company failed to pay the correct wages, “Johnson Controls acted willfully and with the intent to deprive them of their wages…” It says that Martin and other members of the class are therefore “entitled to recover twice the amount of wages unlawfully withheld” according to Washington’s state laws.

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